By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut
Connecticut (CBS) – I thought yesterday’s games were going to be the easiest to predict so far this bowl season. I thought for sure Army, Temple, Washington State and Boise State were going to be victorious. Army won a thrilling 38-31 OT game against North Texas, Temple had one play on offense and were quickly up 7-0 on Wake Forest. Then everything got turned upside down.
Wake Forest ran a hurry-up offense to combat Temple’s good defense and were up 31-7 in the blink of an eye. Wake averaged 19.2 points per game, and Temple’s defense allowed 17.2 points per game. Yet Wake Forest had 21 points, 18 minutes into the contest.
Temple showed some guts scoring 19 straight points to make it a game, but in the end it was too little too late.
It seemed obvious that Washington State’s high powered offense would have its way with a Minnesota secondary that was without 5 contributors and 2 starters. It seemed obvious that the scandal that surrounded Minnesota, and the following player boycott that resulted in 3 missed practices leading up to the bowl game, would play to Washington State’s favor. But alas, all the Cougars could muster were two field goals, before a garbage time touchdown in the last minute of the 4th quarter. Credit to Minnesota’s defense. That was one of the best played games I’ve seen all season.
Another team that looked past the doubters (raising hand) and distractions last night was Baylor. Boise State turned the ball over too many times, and Baylor was able to cash in, leading 21-6 at half time. Good thing I told everyone to go to bed early in yesterday’s column. Too bad I thought Boise would be the team up 21-6 at the half.
Predicting college bowl games can be tough at times. You have to factor in coaches leaving, coaches being promoted, players focused on making the jump to the NFL, player suspensions, player academic ineligibility, various bowl related distractions leading up to the bowl. But it’s fun. And that’s why we carry on.
Wednesday, December 28th
New Era Pinstripe Bowl – Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. Northwestern (6-6) 2PM ESPN
Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
Line: Pittsburgh -4
Bowl Fun Fact: This is the fourth and final game being played on a baseball field, Yankee Stadium.
Pittsburgh Points For: 42.3 Points Against: 35.6
Northwestern PF: 25.6 PA: 22.1
Don’t let Pittsburgh’s 8-4 record fool you; they are a very good football team. They have two very good wins on the season against Penn State and Clemson, and lost to Oklahoma State by a touchdowns, North Carolina by one point and Virginia Tech by a field goal.
They also put up 132 points against Duke and Syracuse in their final 2 games of the season. The problem is that their defense allowed Syracuse to score 61 points in their game as well.
Pittsburgh is well balanced on offense. Their bread and butter is their running game, led by RB’s James Conner and Quadree Henderson. Quarterback Nathan Peterman carried the ball 69 times as well, in addition to his 288 passing attempts that led to 2,602 yards and 26 touchdowns. Junior Jester Weah led the team in receptions with 34, which is not a lot. But they do have depth. Seven players have at least 12 catches on the season and all seven of those players have caught a touchdown, led by Weah’s 9.
Northwestern is a team that had to scratch and claw to get to six wins, but is also a team that is very well respected by its opponents. They opened the season with a 1 point loss at home against MAC champion Western Michigan. In hindsight, that is not a bad loss at all. Western Michigan proved to be a very good team this year. The problem is that they followed up that loss with another home loss, this time to FCS foe Illinois State, 9-7. They figured it out in the middle of the season, winning at Iowa and at Michigan State, beating Indiana at home and losing at Ohio State by only 4. They handled business at the end of the season, beating Purdue and Illinois to get to six wins.
Northwestern’s defense is very good. They totaled 26 sacks on the season, led by Ifeadi Odenigbo’s 12. They also forced 20 total turnovers. Western Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota averaged 34.2 points per game between the five of them. They averaged 24 points in their games against Northwestern.
This should be a very good game between two contrasting styles. A very good, well balanced offense verses a stout and disciplined defense. More often than not, the offenses win out in bowl competition. Pittsburgh gets the slight nod.
Pittsburgh 30 Northwestern 24
Wednesday, December 28th
Russell Athletic Bowl – West Virginia (10-2) vs. Miami (FL) (8-4) 5:30 PM ESPN
Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
Line: Miami -3
Bowl Fun Fact: This is the 2nd of 3 bowls that will be played at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. The Cure Bowl which was played on December 17th and the Citrus Bowl which will be played on December 31st were the other two.
Miami PF: 34.6 PA: 18.9
West Virginia PF: 32.6 PA: 23.4
Miami’s season has been split into thirds so far. They opened the season 4-0 and climbed to #10 in AP rankings. After a crushing 1 point loss to Florida State in week 5 they proceeded to lose their next 3 to fall to 4-4.
They then picked themselves up off the floor and finished strong, again winning four in a row. They went 4-3 against bowl-eligible opponents this season, with some impressive wins over Appalachian State and Pittsburgh. They also lost to a pretty bad Notre Dame team and weren’t competitive in a loss at Virginia Tech.
Quarterback Brad Kaaya was high atop a lot of writers watch lists to start the season. He started the season a little bit slow, with only 10 touchdowns and 4 interceptions through six games. He finished very strong with 13 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in his next six. Still, some might consider this season a little bit of a disappointment for Kaaya as he finished with the same exact completion percentage as last season (61.2%). Miami does have some studs on defense. Twelve different players have been credited with a sack this season and Miami’s defense as a whole has been credited with 33.
West Virginia opened the season 6-0 and also climbed to as high as #10 in the AP rankings. Their only two losses this season have come against both of the Oklahoma schools. Neither game was particularly close, but they have beaten a few good teams this year in BYU, Kansas State, TCU and Baylor.
West Virginia is led by quarterback Skyler Howard who totaled 3,594 yards from scrimmage and 35 touchdowns. His two favorite targets on offense are Shelton Gibson (40-927-8) and Daikiel Shorts (58-833-5). Unfortunately, West Virginia lost 3rd leading WR Ka-Raun White (48-583-5) to a broken leg in their second to last game of the season so their depth will be tested against a good Miami defense.
Not factoring in turnovers, or player interest, this game presents itself to another evenly matched game on paper. Miami has been all over the place this season, but has been playing well of late. West Virginia has beaten the teams it should beat and got to 10 wins doing so. This game could go either way.
West Virginia 27 Miami 24
Wednesday, December 28th
Foster Farms Bowl – Utah (8-4) vs. Indiana (6-6) 8:30PM Fox
Levi Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Line: Utah -6
Bowl Fun Fact: Carolina Panther LB Luke Kuechly won the defensive MVP for this bowl two times in 2009 and 2011 while playing for Boston College.
Utah PF: 30.2 PA: 23.9
Indiana PF: 25.9 PA: 27.3
Utah lost three of their last four games after starting the season 7-1. All four of their losses have come by a combined 19 points and to some pretty good opponents in Washington and Colorado. Their conference schedule was a little bit on the lighter side though. They beat USC right before USC really hit their stride and the rest of their conference wins came against teams with a combined 16 wins. They tend to play really close games as eight of their twelve games were decided by one possession.
Utah is another team that is not an offensive juggernaut, but they have very good depth. Eleven players have scored touchdowns this season for the Utes. Eight players have caught at least 10 balls and that doesn’t even include the top five rushers on the team. Troy Williams is the Utah QB and has 20 total touchdowns on the season through the air and on the ground. Hunter Dimick is the player to watch on defense. Dimick led the Utes with 13.5 sacks this season.
Indiana is another team that has had to deal with a few distractions leading up to its bowl game. Former Head Coach Kevin Wilson resigned out of nowhere on December 1st citing “philosophical differences”. People were left wondering why such a move was made. Indiana isn’t exactly a blue blood football school and Wilson had gotten the Hoosiers to back to back bowl appearances for the first time since 1990-91. Not long after, word started to spread that Wilson was possibly mistreating players and there was one report that Wilson pressured a player to play with a severe back injury. Tom Allen, who was Indiana’s defensive coordinator under Wilson, was hired to be the head coach not just for the bowl game, but going forward as well.
Indiana is another team that is what their record says they are. Their only win against a bowl eligible team came against Maryland in week 8 and they squeaked out a 2 point win over lowly Purdue just to get to six wins. They did play Wake Forest, Nebraska, Northwestern and Michigan tough, losing by a combined 30 points to those four teams.
As mentioned above, Utah likes to play close games, so I do not see this game being a blowout. I don’t believe this will be a game that goes back and forth though.
Utah 33 Indiana 23
Wednesday, December 28th
Advocare V100 Texas Bowl – Texas A&M (8-4) vs. Kansas State (8-4) 9:30PM ESPN
NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Line: Texas A&M -3
Bowl Fun Fact: Both teams are making return trips back to the Texas Bowl. Kansas State lost to Rutgers in 2006 and Texas A&M beat Northwestern in 2011.
Texas A&M PF: 35.4 PA: 23.8
Kansas State PF: 32.2 PA: 21.8
Texas A&M is another team that started very strong with impressive wins over UCLA, Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee. They were as high as #4 in the second college football playoff rankings with a 7-1 record after their first loss to Alabama. They finished the season 2-3 and their two wins came against New Mexico State and UTSA. They also gave up 54 points at home to LSU on Thanksgiving night, which is pretty hard to do considering LSU’s offensive struggles this season.
Texas A&M welcomed back quarterback Trevor Knight in the LSU game. He had a very efficient game before sustaining a knee injury on top of a shoulder injury that he suffered a few weeks earlier. Knight is expected to play in this game, but the knee issue could present some problems for a quarterback that ran for 594 yards and 10 touchdowns. RB Trayveon Williams, and WR’s Josh Reynolds and Christian Kirk are a great trio for any offense to have, but they are very limited after those three. 3rd leading WR Speedy Noil will not play in this game after being suspended by the team.
Kansas State is just a very consistent, no frills team that gets down to business. They finished the season strong, winning five of their last six games. They are also very battle tested, having played Stanford, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU all on the road going 2-3 with a 1 point loss to WVU. The Big 12 wasn’t known for its defense this season, so playing Texas A&M which is another team that has struggled to stop offenses should feel normal.
Kansas State is led on offense by do it all QB Jesse Ertz. Ertz threw for 1,560 yards and ran for another 945 with 18 total touchdowns. He doesn’t throw the ball often, only attempting more than 20 passes in a game seven times. Sophomore FB Winston Dimel is the one to watch when the Wildcats get down near the goal line. Dimel ran the ball only 30 times this season, but 12 of those attempts resulted in touchdowns. Kansas State defense can turn you over if you’re not careful either. Four players have at least 2 interceptions and they have forced their opponents into 23 total turnovers. Jordan Willis leads the team with 11.5 sacks.
This should be another fun game for the former Big 12 foes. This game should be well attended on both sides and should be a close one throughout.
Kansas State 30 Texas A&M 27
Yesterday’s record 1-3, overall 9-11
Follow Mike Bachini on Twitter, @MikeBachini